Link between John Maynard Keynes and Lewes Little Theatre

Paul Myles with letter from Sir John Maynard Keynes
Paul Myles with letter from Sir John Maynard Keynes

An exchange of letters between economist John Maynard Keynes and a local vicar were unearthed during preparations for 75th anniversay celebrations of Lewes Little Theatre.

Club member and researcher Paul Myles was gathering images at The Keep county records office in Falmer for an exhibition opening tomorrow (Saturday) at Lewes House, School Hill, when he found the letters between the statesman and Reverend Kenneth Rawlings.

These letters had not been written about before, and Paul realised they may be of public interest.

Letters to others were also found that together, tell a story of resolve and success in the face of adversity.

Paul has now written the story The Genesis of a Theatre, which will be available at the exhibition, and will include images that have not seen the light of day in public before.

This is a gripping story of the Rev. Kenneth Rawlings, of St Michael’s Church, who on his arrival in Lewes in 1925 was horrified to find there was no theatre in the County Town of Sussex, and had not been for 100 years.

He formed The Players, who performed in St Michaels’ Hall and the Town Hall successfully until 1939.

In trying to establish a permanent theatre, some of the community turned against him, and some of the congregation away from him, due to his pacifist fervour.

He gathered support, notably from Maynard Keynes, who lived at Firle and lent a quarter of the purchase price of the Old Chapel in Lancaster Street that was being used as a vehicle repair shop at that time.

Keynes stayed loyal to Rawlings, and between them, and some other important characters, Lewes Little Theatre was established in 1939 and became central to the war effort in Sussex.

Paul Myles said: “Come and find out the full story and see images and adverts in the programmes that tell a great visual story of Lewes just before and during WW2.”

Images are also shown from selected performance over the decades,

Lewes Theatre Club has shown, on the main stage alone, over 500 productions, all of them recorded with high quality photographs and many of them feature professional actors over the years.

Christopher Whittick, the senior archivist at The KeepO, said: “It could be that the Lewes Theatre Club archive is the most complete and largest of any amateur theatre in the UK.”

The free exhibition runs Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm, until September 27.